PLAYBOY: You play the Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man, but if it were up to you, what kind of supervillain would best suit your personality?
IFANS: I would be Luddite-Man. I am not gadgety at all. It’s not that I’m appalled by technology, but I’ve taken my time acquiring any of it. I just learned to drive last year. I’ve had an iPhone for only maybe two years, and I just recently acquired an iPad. As Luddite-Man, my superpowers lie in delaying the adoption of new technology.
PLAYBOY: You once admitted you’d never read a single Harry Potter book, yet you were in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Would you admit the same of the Spider-Man comics?
IFANS: No, but what I like about my character, Curt Connors, is that he isn’t a purely evil, megalomaniacal villain. He’s a broken, troubled man who starts off wanting to do good, a geneticist who wants to save the world. He’s also a man who has lost an arm, wants it back and wants to help others who are limbless. He loses his way and becomes greedy by stopping at nothing to regain his arm. In that pursuit, I become a large, scaly, strong, sexy creature.
PLAYBOY: Even good actors can be overshadowed by special effects, CGI and motion-capture technology. How do you avoid that fate?
IFANS: What can be done now with motion capture is fucking incredible, right down to facial movements and tics, so there are a lot of effects and CGI for my character. While many superhero movies are kind of operatic in their performances, this one is very human and surprisingly intimate and small. Somehow, the 3-D makes it even more effective by putting those understandable human characters into this big, fantastic world.
PLAYBOY: We’ve been saturated with superheroes in movies and have already had a trilogy of Tobey Maguire Spider-Man flicks. How does The Amazing Spider-Man stand out?
IFANS: Whereas Superman is a godlike guy from another planet and Batman is this mysterious, unknowable billionaire, everyone in Spider-Man is human and flawed. Peter Parker is an awkward, bullied high school kid going through the changes of puberty. There’s a universal and appealing aspect to that story.
PLAYBOY: You’re a long way from your hometown in Wales. Were you an awkward kid?
IFANS: No, any teenager in a small town in Wales is going to get into a modicum of trouble. As a youth, there were drugs and drinking; it’s a prerequisite. I was a regular, badly behaved teenager—chastised and punished but always supported, unlike most kids. I was also very political, as were my parents and younger brother. It was a fiery, embattled time in Wales in the mid-1980s. We were suffering under the Thatcher government, and she was decimating the mining industry and the unions. She turned a generation selfish and greedy. As a young man who spoke Welsh, a language that wasn’t even spoken on television then, you could not help but be politicized.
PLAYBOY: As a Welshman, which of your countrymen meant more to you, Tom Jones or Dylan Thomas?
IFANS: Hearing Tom Jones sing shakes me to the bones, but Dylan Thomas was more present in my upbringing. Growing up, I was entrenched in his relationship with language. Before I performed Under Milk Wood at the National Theatre in 1995, I went back to Wales, to this small village where Dylan wrote the vast majority of his work, and to Browns Hotel, where he drank the vast majority of his drink. I finished my jug and got the idea to spend the night on his grave, a very Thomas-esque thing to do. I was hoping for some osmosis, and it kind of worked.
PLAYBOY: The tabloids widely reported your former relationship with actress Sienna Miller and your friendship with model Kate Moss, and you’re currently in a relationship with Anna Friel. Have you always been surrounded by beautiful women?
IFANS: Well, it’s never been housewives for me. I like strong, independent women—as any strong, independent man should. As a prepubescent I watched a lot of Tarzan movies, and then suddenly along came this Jane in the form of Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., with those beautiful tits and that voluptuousness. My God, you don’t get bodies like that anymore. She was a real woman.
PLAYBOY: Did Raquel Welch’s status as an erotic fantasy figure last into your puberty?
IFANS: Yes, but my first masturbatory icon was Debbie Harry from Blondie. I was besotted. I can’t remember which video it was in, but she had on this asymmetric dress and had bleached hair in front. What really turned me on was this black bit she had in her hair. Oh man.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever write Raquel Welch, Debbie Harry or anyone else a fan letter?
IFANS: When I was 18 or 19 I wrote letters to Howard Marks when he was in prison. It was just astounding to me that this guy, who was also a Welshman, had traveled the world and at any given time was possibly responsible for the trafficking of one third of the world’s marijuana. So what’s a young, pot-smoking punk-rocker kid from north Wales going to do? You write to him and say, “Don’t worry. There’s somebody thinking about you. And by the way, thank you for all the pot.” We met up when he came out of prison and became great friends, and of course I played him in the 2010 movie Mr. Nice. That’s the best bit of networking I’ve ever done.
PLAYBOY: How do you recall your first real-world sexual experience?
IFANS: It happened in Wales, and as far as I can remember, I didn’t do too badly. Before that I had pretty much seen naked women only in magazines an older boy brought to camp from his dad’s garage. The magazines were full of women with vaginas with big Fidel Castro beards, which was kind of overwhelming.
PLAYBOY: You mentioned Raquel Welch’s breasts and Debbie Harry’s streak of black hair. Did you find you were a breast man or a leg man, or do you have some other particular turn-on?
IFANS: I learned early that I’m not a tit man or a butt man. I don’t view women in that way. If I’m anything, I’m a smile man, but I like the whole package in all its cacophony.
PLAYBOY: What do you think are the best qualities you have to offer a woman?
IFANS: Beyond my three penises, a sense of humor goes a long way. I’m also kind of unaware of myself. I don’t find beauty intimidating. I never run away from a sunset.
PLAYBOY: When you decided to pursue acting professionally, how motivated were you by the chance to be around the incredible-looking women who tend to be attracted to the business?
IFANS: I was 16 when I went to Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. I remember walking into the school and being presented with reams of women who had these fucking huge love bites on their necks. Either mentally or physically, I actually rubbed my hands together like a slobbering wolf, thinking, This is gonna be tremendous. I realized after a couple of days that these women weren’t actually rampant in their sexual acting out but were violinists who would play and practice so hard on a daily basis that the fiddle would leave a love bite. Once I figured that out, I got off on a sexual-romantic thing that their instruments actually gnawed them every day. At the time, it was a huge letdown.
PLAYBOY: Even though you did stage and TV work in Great Britain, many of us saw you first as the hilariously primal, slovenly flatmate of Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. How did the posh Grant and Julia Roberts take to your decision to omit showering, brushing your teeth and other hygienic niceties during filming?
IFANS: They were both very gracious, but Julia never saw me as I normally look so she probably thought I was some guy they found in the street. It wasn’t so much a Method acting approach I was taking; it was quite simply that we were filming at -Shepperton, a studio that can take several nightmarish hours to get to and from. I thought, How am I going to get around this torturous journey? So I got a tent and a sleeping bag and camped near the studio, which sort of helped with the whole unkemptness of the character. Due to insurance and liability issues, a limo still had to show up to drive me to the studio. So every day this guy who owned the campsite would watch me walk across the field, get into a limo and be driven away.
PLAYBOY: In the early 1990s you were involved with the Welsh psychedelic--electronic rock group Super Furry Animals and more recently have been part of the group the Peth. Do you feel a tug-of-war between acting and music?
IFANS: I was in an embryonic version of Super Furry Animals. It was seductive, and I felt comfortable in a rock-and-roll band, as any young man would. My guitar playing is punk rock and atrocious, but then, for me as a lead singer, it was easy. That was early in my acting career, and I was presented with the prospect of spending a large part of my life either making music, singing and recording with good friends or navigating this vast unknown, overpopulated ocean that is the film industry. It took me a while to decide until I did a 1997 movie set in South Wales with my brother Llyr called Twin Town. There weren’t a lot of cool movies around, but that one was.
PLAYBOY: Coming from a tough, working-class area of Wales, did you get grief from your friends for becoming an actor rather than a full-time rocker?
IFANS: It wasn’t seen as girlie by any stretch because of the tradition of Welsh actors who’ve made it, like Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins—working-class boys who made a great decision in leaving an impoverished industrial community. So my mates and everyone wished me well even if the attitude toward my career was somewhere between shock and pride.
PLAYBOY: How did your parents react when you decided to pursue acting?
IFANS: Words, drama, poetry—especially Welsh poetry—were very much prevalent in our household. There was always this respect for language. My mother was a nursery-school teacher and my father taught young kids in primary school. Wonderful, wonderful people, and they were always loving and supportive.
PLAYBOY: Last July you were arrested and cited for misdemeanor battery for reportedly shoving a female security officer at the Comic-Con panel for The Amazing Spider-Man. This past February in London, a man at a party in a hotel suite accused you of slapping and verbally abusing him. Are the tabloids dogging you, or are you misbehaving?
IFANS: In most situations you can defend yourself. This is one of those situations where to say anything just feeds the beast. It’s horrible, but I’ve made my peace with it. There’s nothing I can do about it. What makes me emotional is when I see my parents affected. They’re just wonderful, wonderful people, and they’re not young anymore. Being doorstepped by the press and photographers is awful and upsetting to me. They didn’t ask for any of this.
PLAYBOY: Since the press had a field day when you and Sienna Miller were romantically involved, why has there been less to-do over you and Anna Friel?
IFANS: We stay in a lot. I don’t have a place in the U.S., but my girlfriend has a house in Los Angeles. We like the same things. We laugh a lot. We love music. We don’t need to go out to have a good time. We really enjoy each other.
PLAYBOY: Considering your reputation, do people expect you to be a wild man on the set?
IFANS: If so, they’re disappointed. When you go to your workplace, you are not late; you are prepared, thankful and gracious to the people in every department, who are also working at the top of their game. What younger actors sometimes don’t realize is that when a car picks you up in the morning, it doesn’t mean you’re royalty. It means they want to get you to work without a hitch, on time. You’re a factory-floor worker, a deckhand, and we’re all sailing in the same ship to the same fucking place, so start pulling some ropes. I’ve experienced bad behavior only a few times. I think it’s appalling, and I’ve made that very clear—sometimes kindly, sometimes not so kindly.